The voice is unmistakable and inescapable, especially around the time that we Indians proudly unfurl the tri-colour to celebrate milestones in India's march to modern history-Republic and Independence day. Talented young singers may come and go but Lata Mangeshkar, India's nightingale and didi to those in the film industry, remains inarguably, the voice of India.
Year after year, her songs are played over loudspeakers in mofussil towns and metros with the same degree of eagerness and enthusiasm as though they were being heard for the first time.
While Mangeshkar's rendition of Aye mere watan ke logon moved former Prime Minister Pandit Nehru to tears, almost all her patriotic songs continue to impress Gen Ex, GenNow and GenNext even today.
While several singing stalwarts have contributed to the cache of patriotic songs-namely Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey and A.R. Rahman more recently, Mangeshkar, among female playback singers holds almost complete sway on that turf. Over they years, the singing sensation may have stepped down from the numero uno position, giving way to younger singing talent, but she retains her exclusive hold over patriotic film songs even today.
Perhaps it was her voice-mellifluous and pristine perfect for both classical and semi classical Indian music as also the fact that she steered away from singing cabaret numbers that contributed to Mangeshkar being the popular choice in those times for patriotic songs. The feat has not been matched by contemporary singers and the only one to have come close would be A.R.Rahman, who with Maa Tujhe Salaam (Vande Matram), Yeh Jo Des Hai Mera (film Swades) and Jai Ho (film Slumdog Millionaire), there are hardly any new singers/composers, filmi or otherwise that have managed to gain entry into the haloed patriotic precinct.
Interestingly Rahman who had done impressive work in the South film industry, gained almost overnight recognition with his deshbhakti music videos produced by Bharat Bala. Where Mangeshkar, Rafi and Dey with their remarkable renditions captured the nostalgia for the freedom struggle and eras from the past, Rahman tapped the modern sentiments, tapping equally into 'cool sounds' as traditional music of India. Jai Ho, though not considered his best by the purists, went a step further and combined the desi with the global- almost reflecting a journey that Rahman was personally charting at the time.